Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly February 18-25, 2018: Prominent Dissident Pham Doan Trang Freed after 10-hour Arbitrary Detention, Still Facing Arrest

Defend the Defenders | February 25, 2018

On February 24, security officers from the Ministry of Public Security arbitrarily detained prominent political dissident blogger Pham Doan Trang, interrogating her for ten hours before releasing her at midnight of the same day.

Police reportedly said that they will summon her to the police station in the coming days to talk about her new book, titled “Chính trị bình dân” or “Politics for all.” They also warned her not to try to leave her mother’s house in the capital city as the house is under heavy surveillance. 

Vietnam’s authorities have transferred prisoners of conscience Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom) and Nguyen Van Hoa to facilities far from their families. Quynh, who was sentenced to ten years in prison, was moved to Prison No. 5 in the central province of Thanh Hoa, about 1,200 km from her native province of Khanh Hoa while Hoa was moved to An Diem prison in the central province of Quang Nam, around 500 km from his native province of Ha Tinh. Both activists were convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code.

On February 22, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City blocked many former prisoners of conscience, including Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, Le Cong Dinh and Pham Ba Hai from taking part in a meeting organized by the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience in a local restaurant on the occasion of the Lunar New Year. Police and thugs also came to the restaurants to disturb the meeting although only invited activists can get in.

One day after participating in a peaceful gathering in the center of Ho Chi Minh City, activist Nguyen Thanh Loan and her husband Trinh Toan were evicted from their apartment in Go Vap district. Under the pressure of local police, the landlord asked the couple to move out the next day.

===== February 18 =====

HCM City-based Activist Evicted by Landlord after Participating in Marking China’s Invasion in 1979

Defend the Defenders: A landlord has evicted primary school teacher Nguyen Thi Loan from her apartment in Go Vap district, Ho Chi Minh City after finding out that she had taken part in a commemoration of fallen soldiers and killed civilians by the People Liberation Army of China in 1979.

The eviction was likely made under pressure of local authorities, Mrs. Loan told Defend the Defenders.

On February 17, Loan and her husband Trinh Toan together with several activists held a small demonstration at the Tran Hung Dao monument in the city’s center to mark the 39th anniversary of China’s invasion of Vietnam’s northern provinces in which the Chinese army killed around 60,000 Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and destroyed infrastructure there.

A few hours after returning to their apartment, the landlord came to order the couple to move out. The landlord found the couple among peaceful protesters on Facebook, the most popular social network in Vietnam.

Loan said she and her husband have been forced to move from one place to another many times in recent months due to their social activities.

Loan was involved in peaceful demonstrations against China’s invasion in the South China Sea, the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant which caused the environmental pollution in the central coastal region in 2016, and other issues, including pedophile cases last year.

She has been detained and beaten many times by security forces in HCM City. Under police pressure, she was fired from her job as a teacher last year and her husband faces difficulties in finding a job.

Meanwhile, many activists in Hanoi and HCM City complained that they were placed under house arrest on February 17 in order to prevent them from gathering to pay tribute to soldiers and citizens killed by China in a short but brutal war which lasted from mid February to early March 1979.

In order to prioritize a comprehensive strategic partnership with China, Vietnam’s communist government has tried not to speak about the war. Most state newspapers and television remained silent about the event.

Many anti-China activists have been arrested and beaten by security forces and some convicted with trumped-up allegations, in the last few years.

===== February 19 =====

Imprisoned Mother Mushroom Transferred Far from Her Native Nha Trang

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have transferred jailed prominent human rights defender Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who writes under the pen name Mother Mushroom, to Camp No. 5 in the central province of Thanh Hoa, about 920 km from her native province of Khanh Hoa.

In the morning of February 12, four days ahead of the Lunar New Year, Ms. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, Quynh’s mother went to visit her and brought some additional supplies in the detention facility in Nha Trang city where she had been held. However, she was not informed until after she arrived that Quynh had been moved to the new prison facility, which is infamous for its inhumane treatment of prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience.

Ms. Lan said that authorities in Khanh Hoa did not inform her that the transfer would take place on her previous visit on February 5.

The move will make it difficult for the 60-year-old mother to visit her daughter given the long distance while she has to take care for Quynh’s two children, one seven and another twelve.

Quynh was arrested on October 10, 2016 on charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code for her peaceful activities and articles about police brutality, China’s violations of the country’s sovereignty and environmental pollution, especially the environmental disaster in 2016 caused by the illegal discharge of toxic industrial waste of the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in the central coast.

In 2017, Quynh was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison. Her conviction has been condemned by many foreign democratic governments and international human rights organizations as well as Vietnamese citizens (for more information on Quynh’s case, please go to: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/category/nguyen-ngoc-nhu-quynh-me-nam/)

In Vietnam, it is a common practice to send prisoners of conscience to prisons far from their families. Inhumane treatment measures such as solitary confinement, low-quality food and water, bad hygiene, limited family visits, and the use of criminal inmates to attack prisoners of conscience, as well as forced labor are common.

According to Defend the Defenders, Vietnam is holding around 180 prisoners of conscience.

===== February 22 =====

Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience Blocked from New Year Gathering in HCM City

Defend the Defenders: On February 22, security forces in Ho Chi Minh City blocked local former prisoners of conscience from gathering on the occasion of the Lunar New Year.

The meeting, organized by the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience (FVPoC), was held at Hoang Lan restaurant in Le Van Sy street, Tan Binh district in the late afternoon.

However, key members of the organization, includung Co-President Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, coordinators Pham Ba Hai and Le Cong Dinh and other members were barred from leaving their private residences to the venue as the city’s authorities sent plainclothes agents to block their areas.

Only 30 guests of the event can come to the restaurant and they met under close surveillance of security forces and thugs, some of whom got access to the areas under waiters’ clothes. However, they still discussed hot issues of the country, including the government’s inhumane treatment of prisoners of conscience.

When the participants tried to make pictures with banners of the names of prisoners of conscience, thugs came and caused troubles, not allowing them to get pictured.

The meeting was stopped earlier than scheduled, some of the participants said.

According to the FVPoC, Vietnam is holding 94 prisoners of conscience. According to Defend the Defenders, Vietnam is holding at least 180 prisoners of conscience.

Vietnam always denies holding prisoners of conscience, saying it only imprisons those who have violated the law.

===== February 23 =====

Viet Nam: UN rights experts urge release of activists jailed for protesting toxic spill

UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner: UN human rights experts* have called for the release of individuals jailed for writing about and reacting to a discharge of toxic industrial chemicals into coastal waters of Viet Nam.

On 6 February 2018, a court in the central province of Nghe An, Viet Nam, sentenced Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years in prison for blogging about protests regarding the Formosa “marine life” disaster. Also, Nguyen Nam Phong, a victim of the pollution disaster, was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly refusing to obey orders of public officials while driving to a protest.

“Imprisoning bloggers and activists for their legitimate work raising public awareness on environmental and public health concerns is unacceptable,” said Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Hazardous Substances and Wastes.

“We call on the authorities to release Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong who were detained following their efforts to raise awareness and ensure accountability in relation to the spill of the Formosa Steel plant. Authorities must ensure that Viet Nam’s rapid economic expansion does not come at the expense of human rights, in particular those of local communities and workers.”

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said he was deeply concerned by the increasing number of arrests and the detention of rights activists and journalists covering issues of public relevance in Viet Nam.

Last year, the blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, widely known as “Me Nam” (Mother Mushroom), was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her activities online including her reporting on a protest following the industrial toxic spill in Formosa.

The blogger Nguyen Van Hoa also received a seven-year sentence last November for the same reason.

“These convictions not only violate the rights to freedom of expression of these individuals but also undermine the rights of everyone in Viet Nam to receive vital information on toxic pollution and to debate the best remedy for it and ultimately to hold those responsible for the disaster accountable,” said Kaye.

The April 2016 Formosa “marine life” disaster involved the discharge of cyanide, phenol, and other toxic waste into the ocean by a steel mill built by Taiwan’s Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation. The spill reportedly polluted more than 200 km of local waters, killing a large number of fish affecting tens of thousands of livelihoods. The spill sparked numerous protests demanding accountability for the damage caused.

UN experts have previously urged the Government of Viet Nam to release other bloggers and activists in other cases related to the Formosa spill. The experts concluded noting that they communicated their concerns to the Vietnamese authorities and remain ready to visit the country in order to further their understanding on this case.

===== February 24 =====

Prominent Dissident Pham Doan Trang Detained for Her New Book

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have arbitrarily detained prominent political dissident Pham Doan Trang to interrogate her about her recently published book, local activists reported.

Blogger-activist Trinh Kim Tien alerted on her Facebook page that at 2PM of February 24, two officers from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security came to the private residence of Trang’s mother in Hanoi and forced her to go with them to a police station to clarify issues relating to her recently-publicized book Chính trị bình dân (Politics for all).

The mother was not able to contact Ms. Trang after the police officers took her into their car which drove away from the Le Duc Tho residential area in the capital city, activist Tien said, adding the two officers are the same who detained Trang on November 17,2017 after a meeting with a diplomatic delegation from the EU.

The mother said that these officers did not present an arrest warrant.

This is the second time Vietnam’s security forces detained Ms. Trang within four months. On November 17, she was detained and interrogated for hours after participating in a meeting with the political officers of the EU Member States at the Office of the EU Delegation to Vietnam.

Trang is among the leading political dissidents in Vietnam. After resigning as a journalist for state-run media, she has blogged politically and been involved in a number of political activities, including work as a writer and editor of Vietnam Rights Now and Luat Khoa Tap chi, a independent legal website.

She has produced a number of books. Chính trị bình dân is the latest one, in which she encourages all people to engage in politics to settle the country’s issues instead of leaving the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam to decide on the behalf of the 94-million nation.

The 502-page book is sold online in Amazon but not allowed to be circulated in Vietnam and local authorities have confiscated copies sent from foreign countries.

Due to her political activities, she has been under the close surveillance of security forces. She has been forced into hiding for most of the last few months.

In 2015, she was brutally beaten by security forces while participating in a peaceful demonstration to protest Hanoi’s plan to chop down thousands of old growth trees in the city’s center. Due to the assault, one of her legs is still injured, even after a series of surgeries. He needs medical attention.

In May 2016, she was kidnapped by security forces when she was on her way to a meeting between then US President Barack Obama and civil society in Hanoi when he visited the communist nation.

In mid February this year, People In Need, a Prague-based non-governmental, non-profit organization founded on the ideals of humanism, freedom, equality, and solidarity, awarded her with its Homo Homini Prize for 2017 for her contribution to human rights and democracy.

——————–

Jailed Citizen Journalist Nguyen Van Hoa Moved Far from His Native Province of Ha Tinh

Defend the Defenders: Young citizen journalist Nguyen Van Hoa, who was sentenced to seven years in prison and three years under house arrest on allegation of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s 1999 Penal Code, has been transferred to An Diem prison located in Dai Loc district of the central province of Quang Nam.

The transfer was made three months after his trial in which the People’s Court of Ha Tinh province found him guilty of using a Facebook account Nguyen Van Hoa (or Maria Luygonjaga) from 2013 until his arrest on January 11, 2017 to disseminate many videos and pictures “defaming the state and officials” and going against the policies of the ruling communist party and its government.

The move indicated that Hoa, 22, has no plan to appeal the court’s decision although rights activists said his trial failed to meet international fair trial standards. Hoa, who was the first blogger to use flycam to report peaceful demonstrations of Ha Tinh residents against Formosa, reportedly admitted his wrongdoings and begged for mercy.

An Diem prison, about 500 km from Hoa’s native province of Ha Tinh, is the facility of the Ministry of Public Security holding many prisoners of conscience. Human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan, who was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 30 months in prison, spent many months there.

It is a common practice in Vietnam that prisoners of conscience are sent to facilities far from their families, making it difficult for them to visit the detainees. In addition, prison authorities have also imposed inhumane methods of treatment against them in order to force them to make confessions and admit “wrongdoing.” The methods include being placed in solitary confinement, using criminal inmates to intimidate and torture them, and denying basic services such as food, hygiene, and medical care.

Hoa is among the activists and bloggers arrested and convicted because of their activities challenging the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in Ha Tinh which discharged a huge amount of industrial waste into the country’s central water led to the environmental disaster in April 2016 in which hundreds of tons of fish was killed.

In June 2017-February 2018, Vietnam convicted Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Tran Thuy Nga, Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong, sentencing them to between three and 14 years in prison.

Meanwhile, on February 23, UN independent human rights experts called on Vietnam’s government to free Nguyen Van Hoa, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong, who were jailed for writing about and reacting to the Formosa’s discharge of toxic chemicals.

In a statement posted on the website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Hazardous Substances and Wastes Baskut Tuncak said “Imprisoning bloggers and activists for their legitimate work raising public awareness on environmental and public health concerns is unacceptable.”

“We call on the authorities to release Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong who were detained following their efforts to raise awareness and ensure accountability in relation to the spill of the Formosa Steel plant. Authorities must ensure that Viet Nam’s rapid economic expansion does not come at the expense of human rights, in particular those of local communities and workers,” said Mr. Tuncak.

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said he was deeply concerned by the increasing number of arrests and the detention of rights activists and journalists covering issues of public relevance in Vietnam.

“These convictions not only violate the rights to freedom of expression of these individuals but also undermine the rights of everyone in Vietnam to receive vital information on toxic pollution and to debate the best remedy for it and ultimately to hold those responsible for the disaster accountable,” said Kaye.

It is worth to note that the environmental catastrope caused by Formosa’s illegal discharge of cyanide, phenol, and other toxic waste has been the biggest environmental disaster in Vietnam so far. The incident reportedly polluted more than 200 km of Vietnam’s central coast, killing a large number of fish and affecting tens of thousands of fishermen and others whose lives are dependent on sea. The spill sparked numerous protests demanding accountability for the damage caused.

===== February 25 =====

Political Dissident Pham Doan Trang Freed after 10 Hours of Arbitrary Detention, Still Faces Arrest

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces released political dissident and blogger Pham Doan Trang at midnight on February 24 after keeping her ten hours in custody, according to her close friend Trinh Kim Tien, who is also an activist living in Ho Chi Minh City.

Freed but still under heavy surveillance in her mother’s private residence in the capital city of Hanoi, Ms. Trang informed Mrs. Tien by telephone that police cut off electricity and Internet to the house.

Trang said she was temporarily released and has to “work” with the police in the coming days. Security officers who detained her and brought her back to her mother’s house warned that she should not try to escape because the area is heavily monitored.

Trang told Tien that police are likely willing to arrest her.

Defend the Defenders tried to contact Trang but failed.

Trang told Tien that at around 2 PM on February 24, two officers from the Ministry of Public Security under plainclothes came to her mother’s house in the Le Duc Tho residential area. They introduced themselves as officers from the EU Delegation in Hanoi so her mother opened the house door. Trang recognized them as the same security officers who had interrogated her on November 17 last year when she was detained following a meeting between local activists and diplomats from the 28-nation bloc.

Entering the house, they forced Trang to go with them to “work” about her new book titled Chính trị bình dân (Politics for All). They said if her mother had not opened the door, they would have broken in.

Security officers took her to a car waiting for them in the residential area and headed to a police station at Nguyen Gia Thieu street, the facility under management of the Ministry of Public Security.

During interrogation, security officers asked her to admit her interviews for foreign media in 2015. They also asked her information about her recently published book Chinh trị bình dân, such as where the book is being printed and who published it.

However, Trang kept silent, saying she has nothing to tell them.

Trang said she felt great pain in her leg during the interrogation. In 2015, she was brutally beaten by security forces while participating in a peaceful demonstration to protest the city’s plan to chop down thousands of old growth trees in the city’s center. Due to the assault, one of her legs is still injured after a series of surgeries. She needs medical attention.

This is the second time Vietnam’s security forces detained Ms. Trang within four months. On November 17, she was detained and interrogated for hours after participating in a meeting with political officers of the EU Member States at the Office of the EU Delegation to Vietnam.

Trang is among the leading political dissidents in Vietnam. After resigning as a journalist for state-run media, she has blogged politically and been involved in a number of political activities, including work as a writer and editor for Vietnam Rights Now and Luat Khoa Tap chi, an independent legal website.

She has produced a number of books. Chính trị bình dân is the latest one, in which she encourages all people to engage in politics to settle the country’s issues instead of leaving the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam to decide on the behalf of the 94-million nation.

Due to her political activities, she has been under close surveillance bysecurity forces. She has been forced into hiding for most of the past few months.

In May 2016, she was kidnapped by security forces when she was on her way to a meeting between then US President Barack Obama and civil society in Hanoi when he visited the communist nation.

In mid February this year, People In Need, a Prague-based non-governmental, non-profit organization founded on the ideals of humanism, freedom, equality and solidarity, awarded her with its Homo Homini Prize for 2017 for her contribution to human rights and democracy.

Along with purging political opponents within the ruling communist party to solidify his power, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and his faction in the country’s leadership has intensified its crackdown on local dissents and independent civil society. Since the beginning of 2017, the communist government has arrested at least 47 activists and convicted 30 of them, mostly on allegations of national security provisions in the Penal Code.